“It is a bounty hunter ship!” Aj Nin said excitedly. “It is approaching fast. It will be upon us in a few minutes!”
Yug Evahsadeen remained calm. “This is unexpected. It appears that Albiam Muts failed on his final task.” He pointed at the sensor information on the projection panel. “And what is the identity of that larger vessel?”
“It’s also a bounty hunter ship! It’s almost reached the target vessel.” A panel beeped. “It’s the bounty hunter ship calling!”
Yug nodded. “I wish to hear. Open communications.”
A voice was heard. “Sadeeni vessel, I am Cardigan Moth, a bounty hunter from the Palace of Amino. I must detain you on suspicion of destroying the GovernmentTower in Hadus. Do not resist.”
Yug motioned to Aj Nin to close the channel. “I’m irritated by this. Destroy the approaching bounty hunter.”
Aj Nin was concerned. “That will prematurely alert the target vessel to our presence. Perhaps we should negotiate with…”
Yug’s voice became rough. “I do not negotiate with such filth!”
Aj Nin nodded nervously. “Of course not.” He looked down at his console. “Disruptors armed. Firing…”
The light through the curved viewport was blinding, and the vibrations were seriously debilitating.
Cardigan Moth gripped onto his flight stick. He pulled back and to the side, sending the Horizontal Assassin into a spiraling evasive maneuver. He shouted. “Prime the gravity shells. Target the Sadeeni vessel!”
The ship replied. “GRAVITY SHELLS PRIMED. SADEENI VESSEL IS TARGETED.”
Another blast shook the ship. Warning images appeared on several screens.
“Fire five shells - even spread.”
There was a satisfying series of thuds as the shells fired. Through the viewport the bounty hunter watched the shells vanish into the distance, the glow of their sublight engines fading into the gloom.
The weapons screen in front of Cardigan Moth indicated that the shells had detonated.
The ship crunched and creaked. Part of the ceiling buckled in, and Aj Nin yelped as his chair was ripped sideways by almost half a metre.
Yug Evahsadeen was disturbed. “What happened?”
Aj Nin examined his screens. “Some kind of gravity distortion weapon detonated nearby. Part of the hull has been torn off!” He turned. We cannot survive for long under such attacks!”
“What of the bounty hunter ship? I told you to destroy it!”
“All bounty hunter ships are heavily armoured. It will take time to destroy it.”
Yug was annoyed. Events suddenly seemed out of his control. “They are pests, nothing more. Evade, and then leave a trail of THUDs in the bounty hunter’s pursuit path.”
Aj Nin nodded. He played with some controls and sent the ship into a twisting arc to port. “Commencing THUD release.”
Damage reports filled one of Cardigan Moth’s screens. Shield strength was down to 25 percent, and much armour-plating had been stripped away. Maneuvering ability had been affected, too.
At least the gravity shells seemed to have had an effect, though. The Sadeeni vessel was fleeing, leaving behind a significant amount of its hull.
The bounty hunter set a pursuit course.
The Horizontal Assassin’s computer spoke. “WARNING: UNIDENTIFIED OBJECTS ARE BEING EJECTED FROM THE REAR OF THE SADEENI VESSEL.”
Cardigan Moth altered course slightly. He looked at an image of one of the objects. It was small and spherical. “They look like mines. Easy to avoid.” He looked at the sensor information. “We’re gaining easily. The Sadeeni vessel must be…”
“ALERT: ONE OF THE UNIDENTIFIED OBJECTS IS APPROACHING.”
“Approaching?” The bounty hunter looked at the sensor information, and then pulled back hard on his flight stick. “Boost the shields as much as possible!”
There was an incredible crunching sound as the object hit and the ship lurched sideways. Cardigan Moth ducked as debris clattered about the cockpit. The piercing whoosh of escaping air was almost deafening.
“ALERT: HULL BREACH. AUTO-SEAL SYSTEM ACTIVATED.”
Behind, the holes in the floor and ceiling of the cockpit filled with white sealant. The sound of escaping air faded. The smell of the sealant, like a strong and bitter metallic coffee, was almost overpowering.
Cardigan Moth boosted ventilation and directed the ship further away from what he had thought were mines. “Target those objects with HEATs and fire.”
Six HEATs – Horrendously Effective Atomic Torpedoes – launched and headed for their targets.
“ALERT: ANOTHER OF THE UNIDENTIFIED OBJECTS IS APPROACHING.”
There was a flash as the nearest HEAT detonated. The Horizonal Assassin shook as the blast wave hit.
“THE APPROACHING UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT HAS BEEN DESTROYED.”
Seconds later the five remaining HEATs detonated.
“ALL OF THE UNIDENTIFIED OBJECTS HAVE BEEN DESTROYED.”
Cardigan Moth smiled with satisfaction. He looked at his sensor information. The Sadeeni vessel was less than a thousand kilometres away. “Target the Sadeeni vessel. Fire five more gravity shells.”
“All of the THUDs are destroyed. The bounty hunter ship is almost upon us. It’s firing! More gravity weapons, I think!” Aj Nin said.
Yug Evahsadeen slammed his black furry fist on the arm of his chair. He breathed deeply. “Evade!”
Aj Nin played with the ship’s controls sending it tumbling and curving through the void. But avoiding the shells completely was never going to be possible. The shells detonated. With the crunching and tearing of metal yet more of the ship’s hull was torn apart. Damage symbols flickered on all screens. “Life-support is failing! We are soon to be destroyed! We must flee!”
“We will not flee.” Yug lowered his head for a second and then looked at Aj Nin. “Send the message. Initiate phase two.”
Aj Nin’s eyes widened. He nodded vigorously. “That is better than running.” He operated some controls. “The message is sent.”
“I must survive to experience phase two. We must now surrender to the bounty hunter.”
“Yes, it’s the only option.” Aj Nin agreed. A console beeped. “It is the bounty hunter again!”
The voice of the bounty hunter was heard. “Sadeeni vessel, power down and surrender. You have ten seconds to comply.”
Yug responded calmly. “I do not need ten seconds, bounty hunter. I comply with your demands now.” He nodded towards Aj Nin.
Aj Nin powered down the engines and weapon systems.
“A wise decision. I am coming alongside now. Try anything and you will suffer.”
Yug smiled. “From this point on we will not try anything.” He nodded towards Aj Nin. The communications channel was closed.
The Sadeeni vessel was barely visible in the gloom of the Slimyebba void; just an uneven silhouette against the dim backdrop of stars.
Cardigan Moth activated the Horizontal Assassin’s forward flood lights and guided his ship closer to the Sadeeni vessel. The vessel’s distinctive teardrop shape was still there, but it was now jagged and contorted. The bounty hunter smiled as he examined the devastating effect of his gravity shells. The Sadeeni vessel’s hull was torn open in several places, with many section of the hull missing completely. The exposed innards of the vessel seemed to consist of a mass of piping and a much thinner, and now buckled, inner hull. Several jets of gas sprayed out from some of the piping. It was obvious that the vessel’s life-support system was compromised.
Cardigan Moth took his ship carefully round to the rear of the vessel. The vessel’s bulbous engine section, resembling the compound eye of an insect, looked remarkably intact. The bounty hunter spoke to his ship. “Scan the rear of the Sadeeni vessel. What’s the status of its engines?”
“SCANNING… THE ENGINE SECTION OF THE SADEENI VESSEL HAS SUSTAINED NO DAMAGE. THE ENGINE SECTION APPEARS TO BE FULLY OPERATIONAL.”
Alarm bells rang in the bounty hunter’s mind. Why had the Sadeeni vessel not tried to escape? The Sadeeni could not be trusted. He spoke to his ship. “Continuously scan that vessel. Withdraw immediately if there is any…”
“ALERT – CONDITION CRITICAL: 2,654 VESSELS HAVE EMERGED FROM SUBSPACE IN OUR VICINITY.”
Cardigan Moth paused for a second. “Could you repeat that?”
“2,654 VESSELS HAVE EMERGED FROM SUBSPACE IN OUR VICINITY.”
The bounty hunter played with his control console. “Identify those vessels.”
The communicator activated. “You seem to be taking your time, bounty hunter. Is something wrong?”
Cardigan Moth ignored the taunts of the Sadeeni.
“THE IDENTITY OF THE VESSELS THAT EMERGED FROM SUBSPACE IS SADEENI.”
The bounty hunter looked at the graphical display of the Sadeeni vessels. Most of the ships were quite small – between fifty and a hundred metres in length – but a hand full were huge, the largest more than ten kilometres in length. “It’s an invasion fleet!” Cardigan Moth exclaimed. He directed his voice to the ship. “Emergency retreat! Head towards the Blenheim. We must warn Peter the Ace and Panman!”
“THE BLENHEIM CANNOT BE LOCATED. THE SHIP NO LONGER APPEARS ON…”
“The head towards its last know position!”
With a significant rumble the Horizontal Assassin accelerated away and turned in a tight arc.
“ALERT: 36 SADEENI VESSELS ARE NOW ON AN INTERCEPT COURSE.”
The communicator activated again. “We are disappointed, bounty hunter. We were expecting the pleasure of your company.”
Cardigan Moth frowned. “Here’s some compensation for you.” He punched his control console. Three gravity shells shot out of the ship’s rear launcher and sped towards the damaged Sadeeni vessel. They detonated with a satisfying flash of light. The enhanced image on the console’s view screen showed more of the vessel’s hull being ripped apart. The top part of the vessel near its main viewport buckled like a paper cup. The bounty hunter allowed himself to feel a moment of satisfaction.
A violent shockwave almost threw Cardigan Moth from his chair.
“ALERT: THE SADEENI VESSELS ARE ATTACKING. AUTO-EVASION TACTICS ENGAGED.”
Cardigan Moth shouted at the ship. “We must inform the Palace of Amino. Create a message containing all sensor data about the Sadeeni fleet and include all the information on our mission so far. Send direct to Amino Battle Command. Label the message as ‘Very Urgent’. Encode the message as ‘SHOCKING’.”
The ship shuddered in a sickening manner as another attack commenced.
“MESSAGE ENCODED AND SENT.”
In a flash of flame part of the Horizontal Assassin’s cockpit collapsed.